One of my favourite quotes about the skill of writing comes from author extraordinaire, Stephen King. He says ‘If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’ Reading your favourite genre and branching out to others can give you ideas about style, pace, dialogue and so much more.
Whenever I mention to someone that I’m writing a novel, I so often hear ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book too!’ Then the questions flow about how to get started, what makes a good story, publication opportunities etc. My advice (not that I’m an expert by any stretch — heck, I’m still working on that first novel remember!) is to pick up a book about writing. Read it, highlight pages, and learn all you can. I’ve recommended quite a few lately, so thought a round-up post about some of my favourite writing books was due.
1 – Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody.
I can’t express how much I adore this book! Reading it gave me more than a dozen ‘light bulb moments.’ Brody breaks down the process of creating a story into three Acts, then further breakdowns what should be in those acts to make a great story. She doesn’t like the word formula, instead describes the method as a code to storytelling. I love that Brody explains the ‘beats/acts’ and then demonstrates how they work in real-life, well-known stories. I’m telling you, my copy of Save The Cat has post-it notes, pencil marks and highlights all through it. Reading it changed the way I looked at my current manuscript.
2 – How To Write Your Blockbuster by Fiona McIntosh.
This is the book that started it all for me. When I decided that I needed to write a book (a topic that has driven my husband crazy for several years) I, of course, turned to the internet to find out ‘how to write a novel’ and came across a writing masterclass run by Fiona McIntosh. They’re so popular that the next available one was the following year or maybe even the year after. That didn’t suit my impatient Aries tendencies. I noticed she had a book, quickly downloaded a copy onto my kindle and devoured it. My biggest takeaway from McIntosh: Anyone can write a book, you just have to be disciplined about it. I was changed! McIntosh gave direct, straight-forward advice and made it known that excuses wouldn’t do. Since then I have attended her mini-masterclass, at which I bought a paperback copy of this book. She signed it for me and within the personal message was a firm ‘Do It!’
3 – On Writing by Stephen King.
This is a well-known favourite among writers. I mean, if you’re not impressed by Stephen King’s writing career, are you dead inside? This book is great if you want to get inside the mind of a successful writer and see how he came to be a writer and how he tackles his stories. You will learn the tools you need to write and it’s not just creativity. You’ll see he has natural curiosity and above all else, tenacity (see, it’s that discipline thing again). I know many writers who live by this book. For me, it wasn’t as direct with the writing tips as I needed at the time. It is, however, a very interesting read about one of our greatest commercial writers and I loved all the insights into how he came to be who he is today.
4 – How To Be A Writer by John Birmingham.
Where do I start with this book? If you’re after an entertaining read wth lots of tips, this is the money. This book is loaded with humour and very direct advice like one of the sub-headings in his first chapter: Kick Self-Doubt In The Dick. I enjoyed this book because it’s not about the ‘craft’ of writing but, as the title says, how to be a writer. You’ll find useful advice like how to turn your stories (articles, manuscripts etc) into readable content, manage deadlines, create a writing routine, and most importantly how to make money. This book is loaded with personality and it will always be one of my favourite recommendations!
So, there you have it, my list of recommended reading to get writing. I want to tell you one more thing about the above books — collectively, all of the authors say without doubt that to be a writer you must be a reader. So, read these books but also read what you want to write whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, children’s books or poetry. You can only write, what you know.